In normal logic, you have to acquire to accumulate. To have more you must get more.
In God’s kingdom, to have more you must give more. If you want love, you must give love. This is a spiritual principle you would do well to learn. The Good News is for everyone, not just you. If you don’t share it, it isn’t good news. If you keep it to yourself it isn’t good news for anyone else, and it isn’t good news for you.
The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels, or the Good News. When you read them you can see that there are clear differences. They differ in emphasis, in language, in events that are included or omitted, but they all agree on the ending. Matthew 8:16–20, which is our reading today, Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8, John 20:21 and Mark 16:14–20.
Mark 16:14–20 – Later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptised will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.” When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand. And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.
There are some variations in style and wording, but the great commission is clearly the same in all four Gospels. And it is this: Go! Take the Good News to all the world, just as I took it to you. You cannot do this in your own strength, so you must rely on the Holy Spirit. Do not stop at borders, but cross every frontier. Cross the frontiers of age, race, gender, religion, culture, society, education. Break down all the barriers and share the Good News with all people everywhere.
And make disciples of them, build communities, create families of faith.
Be the Good News to them as I was the Good News to you. Teach them how to be the Good News to others as I taught you how to be the Good News. I walked with you, now you must walk with them.
Maybe you don’t realise how radical this message is. It was even more shocking for the Jews who followed Jesus than it is for believers today.
In the ancient world, people believed in many gods. All of these gods were limited to some territory, maybe even to a tree, or a rock, or a field. It was quite a peculiar idea to believe in a god that was not restricted to any place on earth, or any language, culture, or religion. And it was especially strange to not seek to spread the god’s own particular political system and culture.
Oddly given their belief in a universal God, Judaism was not a missionary religion. Judaism was preoccupied with the Roman occupation and with their own internal affairs, setting their national religious and moral life in order.
Even today Jews think like this.
Even more oddly because the first Jew, Abraham, had a global calling. God says in Genesis 12:3 “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” That is a very strong echo of Jesus’ command to go to all nations with the Good News.
But for most of their history the monotheistic Jews were just like their polytheistic neighbours, they were preoccupied with getting a blessing for themselves. They forgot, suppressed or ignored the instruction to be a blessing to the world. They saw their calling as exclusive, being blessed to the exclusion of all other nations, instead of as instrumental, receiving a blessing for the benefit of all nations.
Every now and then God would send along a prophet to remind them of their global calling and rebuke them for their selfishness and parochial exclusivism. Even if they thought about the words of the prophets, perhaps they told themselves it was for a time in the future, but not until they were free. Maybe someday, but not today while we are occupied.
But the kingdom of God doesn’t need to wait for something else to happen first.
This is the Good News. The Great Commission. Jesus tells them it is available right now. So start spreading the news, share the blessing of Abraham now. Tell all people of all nations, races, classes and religions to join this network dynamic relationships with God and his creation. Off you go, Jesus says, what are you waiting for? Go on!
And so they did. The disciples went off into the world with the Good News and told all people of all nations. Read all about it in the second book written by Luke, the book of Acts.
For three years, Jesus demonstrated the art of living in the kingdom of God to his disciples. He was the master musician, and they were in a masterclass learning how to play the music of the kingdom. Now they had become the masters and were taking their own disciples, running their own masterclasses, demonstrating in their own lives the art of living in the kingdom of heaven.
That is the life of a disciple. Go out and practice, play and teach other musicians to play the music of the kingdom. Hand down the knowledge by living as an example.
Parent to child, mentor to mentoree, master to apprentice, teacher to student, friend to friend. The art of living in the kingdom is passed down from generation to generation.
Across the centuries it has come to us. Sometimes the music has been so beautiful it has moved men to tears, sweet and heavenly. But at other times it has been ugly, unworthy of the master. Out of tune, out of rhythm, discordant, the art almost lost until a new master revived it. St Francis, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, John Wesley, Mother Teresa.
Many people feel that today we are playing very badly and desperately need a new master to revive this tradition of playing the music of the kingdom of God in the world.
Every time we have forgotten the example of Jesus and looked to our own talents with music we have become ugly. How often have we forgotten about the kingdom of God coming to earth and instead become preoccupied with escaping the earth and going to heaven. How often have we forgotten Jesus teachings about peace and turning the other cheek and welcoming strangers, and instead blessed wars and crusades, baptised racism and defended injustice.
We have betrayed the Good News. We’ve been preoccupied with money, guilt, power, fear, control, status. Our playing has been shallow, discordant, wooden, concerned with technical correctness but lacking passion. Or sometimes passion without following the notes, rhythms and harmonies given us by Jesus.
Jesus said this would happen, and he said that when it did we would be trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13. If we mouth the words without living them we shall be like trees full of leaves but bearing no fruit. If we stop loving one another we shall become callous and judgemental, greedy for money and power. Our faith will be worthless, people will know we are frauds.
God hates religious bombast, monotone religion without heart.
We here in Jinju International Christian Fellowship are hopefully not like that. I believe we are helping each other learn the music and play it in the world. We are living it out so that others can see what the Good News looks like. We are being transformed by the touch of the Holy Spirit, so he can transform our work places, our homes, our schools, our families, our cultures, our world.
It isn’t glamorous or exciting, it happens quietly, unseen, like the yeast in the dough. But people are able to sense the presence of God when they are in our presence. It is subtle, but in spite of our failures the message is getting out.
Brothers and sisters, let’s keep rehearsing the music of the kingdom. Let’s live it and make the kingdom of God real for others. Let’s see our faith expressed through love.